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Nahant: Poetry by the Sea




Annie JohnsonANNIE JOHNSON        (1827 – 1910) is Nahant’s greatest homegrown poet.  Affectionately known as “Annie of Nahant,” she was a member of one of the town’s leading families.  Her poetry frequently appeared in newspapers, and her book, Songs From Nahant, was published in 1892.  Annie of Nahant was also a painter, and in 2005, her paintings of Castle Rock and Pulpit Rock, both done around 1870, were part of The Nahant Historical Society’s 30th Anniversary art exhibit, “Nahant: The Painted Shores, 1800 – 1950”.

Annie Johnson was well acquainted with naturalist Louis Agassiz and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, both of whom summered on Nahant.  Johnson’s best known poem, “The Bells of Lynn,” opens by referring to Longfellow’s poem of the same name.  Interestingly, in the version presented here, published on Memorial Day in 1885 by The Lynn Transcript, two verses were added before the last.  Each refers to a memorable time when the bells rang during the Civil War. Another of Annie of Nahant’s memorable poems is “When the Snow Comes Down,” which was featured in The Lynn Transcript’s 1911 article on Johnson, part of the Lynn Writers Who Are Worth Knowing series.  In the poem, Johnson contrasts the bright enchantment of summer days to the sullen dreariness of winter snow storms.  And, in a poem based on Nahant history, the richly imaginative “Dorothy,” the speaker of the poem engages the spirit of Dorothy Mills, for whom Dorothy’s Beach is named.

Annie Johnson was not only Nahant’s foremost homegrown poet, she was also hailed as one of the region’s best by Sidney Perley in his 1889 anthology, Poets of Essex County.  Annie Johnson’s stature as Nahant’s leading poet was affirmed in 1903 when she read her commemorative poem, specially composed, at the celebration of Nahant’s Semi-centennial.  The last line reads, “Who would not love thee, beautiful Nahant?”





Far, far and wide, across the sea,
   Farther than wild winds ever flung
The cadence of their melody,
   A Poet has their praises sung.

In pleasant lands beyond the sea
   The magic of his song shall win
From kindly hearts, in stranger homes,
   Sweet praises for the “Bells of Lynn” !

To me how many thoughts they bring
   Of childhood’s days, it smiles and tears !
Ah, never more such chimes may ring
   As gladdened all those happy years !

We hear the cheerful Bells at noon,
   And, closing the brief Winter’s day,
We, listening, wait, when nine at night
   Rings, clear and sweet, across the bay.

But sweeter still, on Summer seas,
   Their distant music sinks and swells,
Now lost ‘mid ocean symphonies,
   Now like a peal of fairy bells.

And we recall one April day
  When wildly rang from shore to shore
Their summons, and a loyal band
  Gathered, to march through Baltimore !

Slow tolled the Bells that April day,
  When, struck by Treason’s hated hand,
He fell, the country’s hope and stay,
  And sudden horror smote our land !

I see the gleaming lights shine out,
   Across the bay. Above the din
Of stormy winds and waves, how clear
   Ring out, tonight, the Bells of Lynn !


from: The Lynn Transcript  (May 29, 1885).